Three years ago today we embarked on our magnificent road adventure. After 15 months exploring the country, we came back to Oregon. Reclaimed our house from renters, sold Bessie the RV, and returned to the work force. I’m back with HP, and Kate works for Hospice in what she considers her dream job. I’ve never seen her so happily employed, and both of us feel rejuvenated. Working a few more years doesn’t seem nearly so daunting now.
On my desk at work, a digital frame flashes a continuous loop of photos from our travels. It lures me from my keyboard into memories that sometimes feel like a dream. Really? We did that? I try to remember what that felt like, to not have to get up in the morning and go to work. To be snug in our little home on wheels, our front yard ever changing. To think about where to go next, pick a direction, and just go. To take time to just stay a while, and slow down the pace. From here in my cubicle, it seems an impossibly luxurious lifestyle. How did we ever pull that off?
For us, middle class privilege played a big part. We had worked for decades and had built up retirement accounts. We had good credit. And we both inherited modest sums from our mothers, enough to fund this scheme of ours. It was a risk, leaving the work force so close to retirement. But we also both had solid marketable skills and work history. We trusted that we could find good jobs when we returned, and we did.
I’m forever grateful for that leg up, but it’s not a prerequisite. A more essential requirement was the courage to make an uncertain choice, to step off the treadmill of all that is safe and expected. To have the desire for something more, the vision to conjure a dream, and the determination to make it happen.
So many people have expressed their envy to us. They want to know how much it cost, in the long run, to know if it’s within their reach. I wish I had a number for them, but after years of careful budgeting, I eschewed all bookkeeping for our year on the road. I can’t say how much we spent on park fees or gas, how much on restaurants or repairs. But I can say that we cashed in $60,000 of our mutual funds account. We put $10,000 down on a brand new motorhome, and stashed the rest into our checking account. When we came home 15 months later, that money was nearly gone, and we had to cash in a bit more to get us through the summer and into our new jobs. Some other factors follow.
- We purchased our coach for $89,000 and sold it two and a half years later for $70,000. Our loan payments for it were $600/month, and insurance was nearly $200/month. Our loan interest rate was 1.5%.
- Because the coach was under warranty most of our trip, we paid very little for repairs.
- With our new coach, our RV dealer threw in a year’s membership to Thousand Trails, a national RV park club. It gave us 30 days of free camping, then $3/night after that. There were restrictions, but it saved us hundreds of dollars in park fees.
- We rented our house out for enough to cover mortgage, insurance, taxes, property management, and then some.
- We spent a lot of nights in Walmart parking lots, or other places where free “boondocking” was allowed. We relied on an app called “AllStays” to locate free and low-cost places.
- We joined Harvest Hosts, an RVing service that provides lists of farms and wineries that allow free camping.
- We rarely ate a meal out or went to a movie. We had no need for (and no room for) new clothes or other items. Aside from gas, groceries, and camping fees, our daily expenses were very low.
- I did a little technical writing work on the road and added about $7,000 to our coffers.
- Because our time was finite, we covered 30,000 miles in 15 months, eating up a lot of gas.
- Gas prices were low during our trip, under $2 per gallon for most of the year.
Ours is just one form of an extended road adventure. When I was 21, I loaded my Irish setter into my Dodge van and left Michigan for California with $100 and a gas credit card. A bold move I wouldn’t exactly recommend, but to anyone dreaming to break free of an unsatisfactory life, I encourage you to strike out in whatever way you can.
Another thing Kate and I have heard a lot: We’d always planned to do a big RV trip when we retired, but then my husband/wife got sick. We came home to the news that my sister had just been diagnosed with breast cancer, and our very good friend’s appendicular cancer was back. Kate and I are still in good health, knock wood, but we’re more aware than ever how quickly life can change on you. We hope to retire for real in a few more years. And at that point, we plan to RV it some more, in shorter forays. But if circumstances prevent that, we have a lush reserve of memories and photos to carry us through.